Reis-Nichols, Indianapolis, IN
OWNERS: B.J. Nichols; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 1998; BUSINESS FOUNDED: 1919 (as Reis Jewelers); STORE AREA: 11,500 sq. ft; ADDRESS: 3535 E. 86th Street, Fashion Mall Commons, Indianapolis, IN 46240; TARGET CUSTOMER: Adults 25-55, $75K+ income/year; PHONE: (317) 255-4467; URL: reisnichols.com; 2004 REVENUES: Over $10 million (from two stores)
ALL CYLINDERS are firing at this Indianan powerhouse — from the dazzling yet comfortable expanse of its show floor … to the value of its pricing and overwhelming commitment to service… to the paradigm-shifting efficiency of its computer systems. Reis-Nichols maintains its vise-grip on the market by never ceasing to strive for perfection in every aspect of its operation. Thereʼs a reason this place became the number-one jewelry store in Indiana based on sales volume — before they ever moved into this location! Read on to see how cool came to the Hoosier State.
Talking Cool with Reis-Nichols
Teen Dreams Come True
In 1957, William Nichols began his career in jewelry manufacturing and wholesale distribution while working for his uncle. Fifteen years later, he bought Reis Jewelers, a longtime manufacturer of emblematic jewelry. He renamed the company Reis-Nichols in 1980, added a showroom, and began selling “wholesale to the public”. This was not a difficult claim to make, as the fledgling retailer operated out of a downstairs basement in downtown Indianapolis. Customers were seen by appointment only.
His son, B.J., graduated from high school in 1982 with dreams of turning Reis-Nichols into the most amazing jewelry store in the city. He didnʼt want to work for his father, who was already semi-retired, so he went ahead and bought the company outright. He began managing the company while at the same time taking 18 hours per semester in college and earning his G.G. degree from the GIA.
The company was growing, but B.J. knew it could do more. He moved the operation to the second floor of the Majestic Building downtown in 1988. With catchy radio ads that included the “ding” of an elevator in the location tag, the nontraditional everymanʼs store quickly earned a reputation for affordability and high quality. Sales skyrocketed.
But 10 years later B.J. could read the writing on the wall. Retail was moving away from downtown. In Indianapolis, Keystone at the Crossing was the new hot spot where the high-end Simon Fashion Mall was drawing customers like an oasis of retail nectar. Opening a spacious new stand-alone store across from the mall, B.J. marveled as his business not only grew, but doubled in its first year. In 2001, the downtown store was closed and a new 3,000 square-foot location was opened on the south side of the city. But the 11,500 square-foot flagship store on the north side remains the gemstone of the region and, as B.J. once dreamed, the biggest-selling jeweler in Indiana.
Spreading the Secret
The downtown store had always been one of those great secrets, whispered about by those in the know. Customers loved the feeling that they were buying direct from a manufacturer, and incredible value became the calling card of Reis-Nichols.
Additionally, customers could watch the jewelers at their benches, which enhanced the feeling of being on the inside.
Not only did that experience have to be recreated in the new store, it had to be taken up a notch. “We needed a hip, cool look to cater to a wide range,” says Melissa Ewen, Reis-Nicholsʼ marketing manager. “From the first time engagement buyer to the experienced Patek Philippe customer.” The goal was to reflect quality in a very approachable way, without turning off either end of the consumer spectrum.
And while B.J. wanted to dominate in all categories, primarily diamonds and watches, he also hoped to capture a new customer: women. “Downtown, 90% of our customer base was working men,” he says. “Most of the typical female buyers live in the suburbs.”
His first move was to bring nationally-recognized design firm Rowland Designs on board. Rowlandʼs innovative layout created the inviting, contemporary look that B.J. was going for, while at the same time ensuring that every employee could be comfortable and productive in their work. Glass windows now run the length of one wall, through which customers can watch eight jewelers in action, just like the old days. And the materials used in constructing the showcases — maple and brushed stainless steel — reflect the casual elegance of the store. “We didnʼt want to use mahogany … too high-end and stuffy,” explains B.J.
The concept worked. Female buyers now make up 40% of the storeʼs customers. Everyone agrees the store is cool and friendly, whether youʼre spending $500 or $50,000. Says B.J.: “We wanted the top brands, and we got them. We wanted the best people in the industry, and we got them too. People can look right through the glass and see that weʼre experts.”
Delight in the Details
Thereʼs no devil in these details, but there is a heaping scoop of delight. Once shoppers get over the vast amount of space and merchandise, they begin to notice the beauty of each element that contributes to the overall harmony that is Reis-Nichols.
Watch gears soar overhead in the multilevel ceiling. The award-winning carpet provides a muted reflection, with circular patterns intersecting various colors of hardwood.
Orangy-brown maple cases rise from the floor atop funky, curved legs. Soft yellow walls offset the browns and whites of the store perfectly. And surrounding the central showcases are designer boutiques, each designed to reflect the particular qualities of its designer (Mikimoto, David Yurman, and John Hardy, to name a few).
Towards the front right of the store, the ceiling is cut out in two circles, with over a dozen pendulum lights hanging down to highlight the watch area. Rolex has its own circular showcase area, while the others (Cartier, TAG Heuer, and ten additional brands) share a larger, matching expanse. Moving toward the rear of the store, shoppers can watch a diamond-setter, hand engraver, and specialized goldsmiths hard at work through the glass shop wall.
A large bridal island sits at the back of the store, with unusually tall showcases. “While our sales staff had some difficulty getting used to these, they make it far easier for customers to see the jewelry,” says Melissa. Around the corner is the ladiesʼ favorite feature, the cappuccino machine and beverage area. A gentsʼ lounge with big-screen TV and kidsʼ room (complete with Pac-Man arcade game) are also available for shoppersʼ enjoyment.
A self-described “technology nut,” B.J. is constantly on the lookout for the next innovation. But when he canʼt find what he wants, he builds it himself. Take, for instance, the storeʼs far-reaching software program. Itʼs called Brilliant — or “B.J.ʼs Baby” by some staffers, who also say itʼs “beyond anything else in the industry.” Intuitive and Windows-based, Brilliant handles customer data, jobs, inventory, point-of-sale, and appraisals with lighting speed and incredible ease. And as B.J. is quick to point out, it was invented by a jeweler, not tech geeks or accounting people.
The Brilliant system took more than three years and over $200,000 to build, but the results have been well worth it. “We were on a slow, cumbersome system thatʼs popular in the industry,” B.J. recalls. “It used to take our people months to learn it. With Brilliant, it takes them 20 minutes.” He adds that Brilliant saves Reis-Nichols $50,000 per year in staffing costs, and is more efficient than anything else on the market. Physical inventory, which used to cost the store a full day, can now be done in two hours.
If that werenʼt enough, B.J. also invented a virtual catalog called Gemolog, which indexes all of the storeʼs manufactured merchandise to the prices of gold, diamonds, labor, and findings in real-time. “Anyone in the store can pull up a standard piece and modify its components, and the system will automatically calculate a new price for the customer on the spot,” says B.J.
He also waxes poetic about the storeʼs laser welder and CAD system, which allows his jewelers to design rings online. Regardless of the project, B.J. is never one to rest on his laurels. “Most companies would adjust the way they do business to the software,” he says. “But that takes all the fun out of it. Now, everyone in the store loves to get on the computers.”
Picnics and Go Carts
Company picnics. Indoor go-cart races. Elton John concert tickets for 63 employees. Working at Reis-Nichols is not a job, itʼs an adventure … and a fun one at that!
Family is important in this company. Aside from B.J. (who is company president and majority owner), his four sisters also participate in the company, and not just as owners. Cindy is VP of the Greenwood store location, Brenda is one of the countryʼs finest diamond-setters, and Carla is active on and off. Only Linda, who works full-time as an attorney, is not involved on a regular basis. But family at Reis-Nichols includes more than just blood relatives.
Staff members are often invited to picnics and other gatherings, where families can mix and mingle. And each December, B.J. issues a challenge — if a given sales figure is met, the store shuts down for a day or two and the entire staff is flown to Las Vegas, New York, Boston, Nantucket, or some other faraway location to celebrate. But while these perks are important, itʼs the intangible benefits that sometimes matter most to employees. “B.J. walks through the store every Monday morning just to say hello,” says Melissa. “Heʼs very down-to-earth, and that makes it really easy to work here.”
For all these reasons, people tend to stick around for a long time at Reis-Nichols. “You canʼt wing it when it comes to keeping good people,” says B.J. “Itʼs the reason so many other stores hit a sales ceiling. You have to have structure and systems, or the wheels start coming off.”
PHOTO GALLERY (9 IMAGES)